Tourism Tuesdays December 4, 2018

Candlelight Tours continue at Governor’s Mansion for next two Monday nights

Alabama success stories: Tourism in Alabama

Alabama to be featured in American Airlines magazine

International travel agents descend on Alabama

Outdoor adventures, music, restaurants, museums, fun all meet in Mobile, Alabama

Alabama chef gets shot at ‘Top Chef’ title

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Candlelight Tours continue at Governor’s Mansion for next two Monday nights
The first Monday night of the candlelight tours attracted a crowd of more than 500. Gov. Kay Ivey will open the Governor’s Mansion for candlelight tours for the next two Monday nights from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Designers have volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the tours. “This is the people’s house and I want to share it with them during this special Christmas season,” said Ivey.

Tickets for the tours are available free of charge at the gift shop prior to the tours each day. The gift shop is located at 30 Finley Ave. across the street from the side entrance of the mansion.

The interior design companies working on decorating the mansion include Southern Posies, Lynne Coker Interiors, Magnolia Pointe Designs, Flowers by Amanda, Katherine Trantham Interior Design and CCI Premier ReDesign.

Choirs and singers scheduled to perform include the Albertville High School Show Choir and Diane Shultz on Dec. 10 and the Prattville First United Methodist Church Choir and the Saint James Choir on Dec. 17.

The Governor’s Mansion is a 1907 Colonial Revival house located at 1142 South Perry St. in Montgomery and has served as the official residence for governors of Alabama since 1951. The neighboring Farley-Hill House became part of the Governor’s Mansion complex in 2003 and will also be open for the candlelight tours.

The mansion will be open for candlelight tours from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 10 and 17.

More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion candlelight tours at

Alabama success stories: Tourism in Alabama
From the article on ( RSA’s The Advisor:

Alabama’s tourism industry has grown by 61 percent during the past decade, bolstered by expansion of condominium developments along the Gulf Coast, continued solid traffic to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, and an improved image of “Sweet Home Alabama.” Tourists have spent more each successive year, from $9.3 billion in 2009 to an estimated $15.4 billion in the current year.

The industry employs approximately 190,000 persons. Baldwin County leads with 52,000 employees, followed by 30,000 in Jefferson County and 17,000 in Madison County.

Alabama’s image has changed in the recent past, making the state more inviting to tourists. Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks won early seasons on American Idol. The public relations value of the Crimson Tide’s multiple national football championships over the past decade is undeniable. In addition to increasing enrollment on campus, many football fans have put a trip to Tuscaloosa on their bucket lists.

Foodies have flocked to the state since May when the James Beard Foundation awarded Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham “the Oscar of American restaurants” after Highlands was a finalist for nine previous years. Major food magazines have promoted Birmingham as a major culinary destination for the past decade.

In a significant change from previous eras, national political writers praised Alabama voters a year ago when they elected Doug Jones over Roy Moore for a Senate seat. The marketing and promotion of civil rights landmarks in Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma have attracted many African Americans and whites to make pilgrimages to the South.

Tourism director Lee Sentell credits television commercials on 65 Raycom Media stations, an investment of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, with increasing the number of tourists who visit from the Midwest and surrounding states.

“Every part of the state has seen dramatic growth, from the mountains of the Tennessee Valley to the beaches along the Gulf Coast,” said Sentell. “Each year, most communities generate more revenue and gain jobs through meetings, conventions, sporting events, visits to museums, and other tourist attractions. The larger counties which have invested in sporting venues have seen an increase in the number of youth teams arriving from outside the immediate area for tournaments.”

In the most recent year, more than 6.4 million tourists spent $4.4 billion in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach. Some 3.3 million spent $2 billion in Jefferson County (Birmingham), while another 3.1 million visitors in Madison County (Huntsville) spent $1.3 billion. An estimated 3.4 million guests in Mobile County (Mobile) left $1.2 billion in cash registers.

For the complete article please see

Alabama to be featured in American Airlines magazine
From the article by Michael Sznajderman on

Alabama will be in the ‘Spotlight’ in December, on every American Airlines flight spanning the world.

The Yellowhammer State is the subject of a 40-page, full-color special section–called Spotlight–inside the December issue of the airline’s American Way magazine. The magazine will reside for 31 days, beginning Saturday, in every seat pocket of every plane American and its regional partners fly during December–the busiest travel month of the year. After that, it will be available online.

American Airlines Group (AAG) averages nearly 6,700 flights daily to 350 destinations in 50 countries, the airline reports on its corporate website.  It’s the world’s largest airline based on number of aircraft and passengers served, according to the online site Airport Technology. Nearly 200 million passengers traveled on American in 2017.

The Spotlight special section examines the state with a focus on economic development and innovation. It highlights business and education “Trailblazers,” the state’s research and educational institutions, and examines workforce development efforts. One article probes Alabama’s global impact, highlighting foreign investment in the state in industries such as automotive and aerospace. The state’s growing tech and startup sectors also are examined, with attention paid to companies such as Birmingham’s Shipt. A number of innovative projects underway across the state also get mentions, such as the design and management of NASA’s new Space Launch System at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, and the Smart Neighborhood project in Hoover, built in partnership with Alabama Power and other companies.

“At a time when there is so much positive momentum in Alabama, this special supplement offered a perfect opportunity to reach a large audience with stories of excellence from across the state,” said Steve Spencer, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, which assisted with connections to business and industry across the state for the project. “Passengers on American Airlines’ flights in the month of December are going to be impressed, and probably a little surprised, to learn about the exciting developments in Alabama’s economy, as well as all that the state offers as a quality place to live, work and play.”

The state’s hot spots for visitors also are covered, with writeups about the state’s largest cities, its historic sites and natural wonders, and unique attractions, including the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and Gulf Coast beaches. Birmingham’s culinary scene also gets a nod, with an interview of famed chef Frank Stitt, whose Highlands Bar & Grill was named the nation’s most outstanding restaurant this year by the James Beard Foundation.

American Way readers offer an enticing demographic. More than 86 percent are college educated, and readers boast a median household income of $114,200, according to the magazine.

As for the cover of the special section, it features a lively graphic blending sites from across Alabama, from the state Capitol, to Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center, to Mobile’s downtown skyline, to Birmingham’s iconic statue of Vulcan.

The final article, titled “Looking Ahead,” provides a positive glimpse of Alabama’s potential tomorrows, with predictions for expanded tourism, business expansion and research breakthroughs.

State Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield offers a glowing vision for the state’s future to close out the glossy special section: “We want Alabama to be seen as a place where there are no obstacles blocking the path to success and a state where the odds aren’t stacked against dreamers.”

For the complete article please see

International travel agents descend on Alabama
From the article by Lydia Nusbaum on

A group of nearly two dozen international tour operators, or travel agents, has descended on Alabama, and they’re not here to rest and relax. Their work will be critical to attracting international tourists to the United States, and possibly Alabama.

The operators visiting Alabama are coming from places like Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, France, and the United Kingdom, and if they’re impressed with what they see while visiting, they’ll potentially return home with plans to create tours for their clients.

“All of these are top-targeted markets to Alabama where people want to travel. So the potential visitors from all of these destinations is quite huge,” said Grey Brennan, the executive director of the Alabama Tourism Department.

The department said most of the time international tourists go through a tour operator when planning trips.

“Especially coming from overseas, they’re not going to go to one place,” said Brian Jones, the public relations officer with the department.

Jones said these tour operators give their clients itineraries and book hotels. In 2017, there were 362,000 international visitors who spent $589 million in Alabama.

Tourists – and their cash – can have a very big impact on a local economy, and the Alabama Department of Tourism is taking notice of the opportunity. After all, it’s not very often these agents come for a visit.

Jodie Collins is a tour operator with Luxery Escapes in Australia. They produce articles and have a television show.

“We really like looking to find out more about real hotels and destinations that we can provide something really special and neat for our clients,” Collins said.

Multiple stops are being surveyed as part of the agents’ visit. Some of the cities include Muscle Shoals, Florence, Birmingham, Bessemer, Selma and Montgomery.

“So we want to showcase the authentic America,” Brennan said. “The history we have here in the South.”

For part of the trip, Collins visited the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery and the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma.

“Seeing this bridge here right now and it was such an incredible movement,” she said. “I’m really honored to be on this trail. And see what people went through to get where we are today. I think it’s a must to come to Alabama and experience this for yourself.”

These agents have the power to literally put a destination on the map for world explorers, and Alabama officials are hoping they chart new courses into the Deep South.

For the complete article please see

Outdoor adventures, music, restaurants, museums, fun all meet in Mobile, Alabama
From the article by Steve Ahillen on

It all meets in Mobile.

The Mobile River meets Mobile Bay and the bay soon meets the Gulf of Mexico, which all makes the city of 190,000 people one of the busiest seaports in America.

The French met the Spanish met the British met the Confederates, and all flew their flags over the city at one time or another.

Fresh water fish meet saltwater fish, most of the time on the same table at Wintzell’s Oyster House.

All of this meeting has made Mobile one fascinating place for visitors to see and explore with a blend of museums, music, restaurants, outdoor adventure and fun hard to find anywhere else.

Downtown fun and food
Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville stands with great pride in Cooper Riverside Park and with good reason. The statue of the city’s founder has a view of the port before him. There, seagoing ships holding thousands of shipping containers are being unloaded with huge cranes. Across the river, gleaming military vessels are under construction. Behind the founder is the downtown skyline topped by the tallest building in Alabama: the 35-story, 745-foot RSA Battle House Tower.

The city has come a long way since the French colonist established a settlement here in 1703.

Lead singer Jimmy Hall entreats fans gathered at the annual Ten65 Music Festival to “Keep On Smilin”, which isn’t hard to do on this comfortable night. Hall’s Mobile-based band, Wet Willie, has been wailin’ its brand of Southern rock since 1969.

The smiling comes easy along Dauphin Street in the city’s eating and nightclub district. Mobile’s many festivals launch on Dauphin Street.

Folks like to point to attributes where Mobile has it all over New Orleans, foremost of which is the fact that Mardi Gras was begun here, not in the Big Easy, with parades and parties still erupting for weeks before and through Fat Tuesday, just like in that “other place.”

Some of the Mobile cuisine also has New Orleans topped. The muffuletta at Panini Pete’s on Dauphin gets my nod for No. 1. The restaurant’s beignets are lighter and more flavorful than those at New Orleans’ legendary Café Du Monde.

For some literally high-end dining, Dauphin’s resides on the 34th floor of the RSA-Trustmark Building. Owner Bob Baumhower has gained almost as many fans with his fine dining restaurants as he did playing defensive line for the University of Alabama and the Miami Dolphins. Executive chef Steve Zucker creates new spins on seafood, and the steaks are as unbeatable as the view of the city. Esquire magazine named him one of the top 10 “chefs to watch.”

In the historic Oakleigh neighborhood at Kitchen on George, executive chef Bryan Cates stirs up the menu with sweet tea pork schnitzel and lavender honey duck leg among the entrees.

Museum musts
Executive Director Brent Beall says people have gotten seasick while steering a make-believe boat through Mobile Bay on a simulator at GulfQuest National Maritime Museum. Architecturally, the building is designed in the shape of an ocean liner and even has a bridge on top. At times, the Carnival Fantasy cruise ship docks nearby in the harbor, and from the museum’s bridge, a visitor can look directly into the bridge of the Fantasy.

“You won’t find many artifacts in this museum,” explains Beall. “We’re all about hands-on and interactivity.” Visitors can play navigation games, operate cranes, steer sailboats.

Among other places of interest are the Alabama Contemporary Art Center, the History Museum of Mobile, the Mobile Carnival Museum, Bellingrath Gardens and Home, and the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, where visitors inspect the World War II vessel top to bottom.

The city itself is a museum with more antebellum structures than any other place in America. Visitors learn the history of African-Americans in Mobile by following the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail. The trail includes a stop at the former site of the city’s slave market. The Clotilda, the last slave ship to come to America, docked in Mobile in 1860.

Outside adventures
The kayak seems to glide on its own, slipping through channels around cypress groves and marsh grasses.

Though the October day has been hot, by early evening, the air has cooled, the sun has dipped toward the horizon and kayaking life has become just about heaven.

Even the alligators get along. A big one takes a casual look at the half dozen kayakers paddling 30 feet away and nonchalantly disappears underwater for some peace and quiet. Guides assure us that the gators aren’t planning an attack; they want nothing to do with us.

A paddler can literally go on for days exploring the ins and outs where the five rivers come together to form the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the second largest delta in the nation behind the Mississippi River Delta.

A good starting point for a kayak adventure is the 5 Rivers Delta Center. The $10 million facility also holds a trove of area wildlife. Educator Kathy Hicks lifts a kestrel from its cage for closer viewing or lets a visitor hold one of several snakes.

Captain Crunch has the lazy-eyed swagger of the baddest of the bad. A 13-foot, 782-pound alligator, the Captain holds the official bite force world record with a clamping power of 2,982 pounds. He tends to hang out and snooze at Alligator Alley in Summerdale, Alabama, just east of Mobile. He is one of around 450 alligators in residence at the alley. They have a good home with plenty of space, especially in a marsh that visitors can explore on an elevated wooden pathway well out of chomping range.

The really great thing about Dauphin Island is that it has remained the same for decades with little cafés and doughnut shops satisfying hungry guests as they have for years.

The Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab provides insight on the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama: the Delta, Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands and Gulf of Mexico. Visitors can pet a sting ray or get a close look at a variety of fish in tanks that collectively hold 30,000 gallons of water.

The island is considered one of the top spots in the Southeast for bird sightings with 346 species identified here. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary provides 164 woodland acres for viewing.

On Dauphin Island’s eastern point, Robert Bean dresses in period attire as he leads visitors around the Fort Gaines Historic Site. The fort played a big role in the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. Rear Admiral David Farragut led the Union to victory over a smaller Confederate fleet that was supported by three forts, including Fort Gaines.

Staying in style
Looking out the window from the 22nd floor of the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel on to Mobile Harbor is bucket-list material. The view of the harbor is fantastic with the city glistening and huge ocean-going crafts coming and going in the harbor.

Yes, life is good.

The nearby Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel and Spa, in addition to being the state’s tallest building, holds much history. It is built on the site of a military headquarters established by Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812.

The Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa in nearby Point Clear opened its doors in 1847 and this year completed what owners call a three-year grand transformation renovating nearly all aspects of the resort from dining rooms to spas to meeting facilities.

This “Queen of Southern Resorts,” as it is called, holds 405 guest rooms, offers two 18-hole golf courses, and covers more than 600 acres near the laid-back beach community of Fairhope on Mobile Bay.

For the complete article please see

Alabama chef gets shot at ‘Top Chef’ title
From the article by Peggy Ussery on

Kelsey Barnard Clark can’t say a lot about her experience with the Bravo competition show “Top Chef.” But what she can say is it was harder than she ever imagined.

“The ‘Top Chef’ kitchen is very, very hard and it’s not what people think it’s like,” Clark said. “It’s extremely hard to understand how big it is unless you’re in there.”

Clark, the executive chef and owner of the restaurant KBC in Dothan, is one of 15 chefs competing in Season 16, which was set in Kentucky and premieres on Bravo on Thurs., Dec. 6, at 8 p.m.

For Clark, it is difficult to even compare the experience to anything she has done as a caterer, chef, and restaurant owner.

“As business owners and chefs we’re very organized and we’re planners – every single one of us,” Clark said. “And you literally have to just throw that out the window because you have no time to strategize what you’re going to do.”

KBC will host a viewing party from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the open space next to the restaurant on North Foster Street, complete with a jumbo screen. A $25 armband will include two cocktails, a Champagne toast and hors d’oeuvres with part of the proceeds from armband sales to go to the Dothan Animal Shelter. Attendees are also encouraged to bring dog and cat food for the animal shelter.

A cash bar and a specialty menu will be available for anyone who does not buy an armband. Attendees should bring blankets or chairs for seating.

Email to reserve tickets or purchase an armband. Only a limited number of armbands will be sold.

KBC started as a catering company in Dothan six years ago. Clark, a Dothan native, attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. She worked under Gavin Kaysen at Café Boulud and John Fraser at Dovetail in New York before she returned home to start her own catering business.

About year after opening her catering company, Clark bought the Butcher Block restaurant on Westgate Parkway, renaming it KBC Butcher Block. It wasn’t long before a downtown restaurant, KBC on Foster, opened. Eventually, Clark sold the Butcher Block and focused her attention on the downtown restaurant, now simply known as KBC.

Bravo’s “Top Chef” first aired in 2006. The show brings professional chefs from all over to compete for $125,000 in prize money. Each season typically features Quickfire challenges, elimination challenges, and Restaurant Wars with appearances by celebrity chefs. The show is hosted by Padma Lakshmi and features Tom Colicchio as the lead judge. Each season is set in a different location, which serves to inspire challenges throughout the episodes.

Clark’s “Top Chef” experience began when her general manager sent in Clark’s information during an open casting call for the show. Clark actually made it to the finals for the show’s Season 15 set in Colorado but found out she was pregnant and had to bow out. When casting for the Kentucky season started, Clark got a call from the show.

Filming took about eight weeks from May to the end of June, Clark said.

For the Kentucky season, challenges were held in Louisville, Lexington, and Lake Cumberland. The season’s finale is actually set in Macau, China.

Clark said the “Top Chef” experience taught her a lot about herself. The chefs are disconnected from the real world – no TVs, smartphones, or books. No Instagram to turn to for inspiration.

“It’s very humbling because you’re going back to the basics,” Clark said. “You really have to go back to the basics of how to cook and just cook. That’s all you can do. It really makes you push yourself personally, too.”

For the complete article please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
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